In the wake of the Fulton County courthouse murders, everyone is asking how there could be such a breach of security involving a felony defendant who had been caught with homemade knives (shanks) in his shoes earlier in the week? See AJC article.
Personally, I have often observed how easy it would be for a determined felon to grab a gun from the holster of an unfit deputy. It just seems idiotic to have deadly firearms accessible to desperate felons in a courthouse full of court personnel, lawyers, jurors, litigants and witnesses. Jail and prison guards never carry firearms when they go into areas where prisoners are held because of the risk of being overwhelmed and the weapons taken from them. It makes far more sense to control criminal defendants with superior numbers, physical restraints, access controls, and non-lethal weapons such as batons and tasers.
In 2003, two Superior Court judges complained about lax security after confrontations with people who got into private areas of the courthouse. Former Sheriff Jackie Barrett — who was removed from office in a financial scandal last year — said she had reduced security because of budget cuts.
“Court security has always been a problem,” Judge Stephanie Manis said, noting that a defendant in her court once grabbed a deputy’s gun in a holding room. “I do not believe you will find this is the only incident.”
Several lawyers said Friday they had long harbored worries about the practice of assigning a single armed deputy to guard a defendant in a locked holding room, because of fears that the defendant could take the officer’s weapon. “I always thought, if you get one strong inmate and one not-so-strong deputy, something bad could happen,” said defense lawyer Patricia Chandler, who was in a nearby courtroom at the time of the shootings. Another defense attorney, Jack Martin, described arming courtroom security officers as “idiotic.” “That’s just asking for trouble,” Martin said. “They don’t allow the marshals to carry guns in federal court just for that reason.”
Only a few days ago, new Sheriff Myron Freeman suggested problems in courthouse security. He told Superior Court judges in a memo that the number of inmates being brought in for trial was exceeding the capacity of holding cells. The new sheriff was aware of the stress the numbers put on his deputies,” Judge Stephanie Manis said. “We planned on all working with the sheriff in making sure our load was better spread out.”
On Wednesday, Abramson said, when deputies took Nichols from the courthouse to the Fulton County Jail, they discovered two metal “shanks” a term commonly used for homemade knives in his socks. Nichols claimed the devices were for arch support, but deputies filed a report and notified Judge Barnes.
The next morning, Abramson said, Barnes called prosecutors and Nichols’ lawyer into his chambers to discuss the incident. With the lawyers’ agreement, Abramson said, Barnes asked the Sheriff’s Department for extra security, and two additional deputies were assigned to his courtroom.

The Shigley Law Firm represents plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases statewide in Georgia, and in other states subject to the multijurisdictional practice and pro hac vice rules in each state. Ken Shigley was designated as a “SuperLawyer” in Atlanta Magazine and one of the “Legal Elite” in Georgia Trend Magazine. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, Chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute and former chair of the Georgia Insurance Law Institute. He particularly focuses on cases arising from truck wrecks and accidents (tractor trailers truck wrecks, semi truck wrecks,18 wheeler truck wrecks, big rig truck wrecks, log truck wrecks, dump truck wrecks).

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Ken Shigley, senior counsel at Johnson & Ward, is a former president of the State Bar of Georgia (2011-12). He was the first Georgia lawyer to earn three board certifications from the National Board of Trial Advocacy (Civil Trial Advocacy, Civil Pretrial Advocacy…

Ken Shigley, senior counsel at Johnson & Ward, is a former president of the State Bar of Georgia (2011-12). He was the first Georgia lawyer to earn three board certifications from the National Board of Trial Advocacy (Civil Trial Advocacy, Civil Pretrial Advocacy, and Truck Accident Law). In 2019, he received the Traditions of Excellence Award for lifetime achievement. Mr. Shigley was the lead author of eleven editions of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation and Practice (Thomson Reuters, 2010-21). He graduated from Furman University and Emory University Law School, and completed certification courses in trial practice, negotiation and mediation at Harvard Law School.